A hero's welcome
Honor Flight coordinates veteran visits to the National WWII Memorial
By Joyce P. Brayboy
Service members who fought at the end of World War II missed the street parade entertainment that met other returning combat veterans.
The many fighting men went on to join the hustle and bustle of life without so much as a thank you.
Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization created in 2005 to honor America's veterans, gives that long overdue "thank you" resounding in the voices of troops, family members, veterans and others in the community who welcome the heroes to Washington D.C., for an all-expenses paid visit to the National World War II Memorial.
"We have anywhere from 35 to 170 World War II veterans on a flight," said Duke Case, a Korean War veteran and National Security Agency retiree who has volunteered to assist Honor Flight for several years at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The number of guests that come in depend on the funding available at the regional Honor Flight hubs, he said.
"It can be heart wrenching to see people come together to get the World War II veterans here for a visit," Case said. "A fourth grade class held a car wash on their own to help raise money."
About six to eight volunteers provide for veterans' needs when they arrive at BWI, Case said. The coordination could include basic accommodations such as ice water or more specific needs such as a wheel chair or an oxygen tank.
"It is a tremendous process," Case said. "It starts the day before. When we get a trip, like the one coming in Friday, we could be welcoming one or two veterans with an escort from flights throughout the day."
On most tours, veterans arrive and depart the same day, Case said. The core volunteer group, led by Glen Anderson, who brings it all together, coordinates the veterans' arrivals and departures from the airport.
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines representing units across Fort Meade at the terminal entrance gather to welcome the veterans and say, "Thank you for your service."
Typically, as guests step off of the plane, any number of greeters could be waiting at the terminal for an Honor Flight, Case said.
Navy Lt. Jennifer Bouzigard of Navy Information Operations Command Maryland, whose grandfather is a World War II veteran, has been coming regularly to welcome Honor Flights in her Navy dress uniform along with others from her unit.
"When [the veterans] walk off that plane, they are looking for three things: the bathroom, the pretty ladies, and when they hear the sound of the applause as they walk into the terminal, they look to the right for military -- uniformed troops," Case said. "It is a bond from the beginning. It is so important to have service members there up front."
Ed Zaluski, who served in World War II as a B-24 Liberator aircraft gunner, stepped into the airport after his flight from Rochester, N.Y. surprised by the attention.
"I never expected a tribute like this," said Zaluski, a resident of Cicero, N.Y. "I'm looking forward to meeting all of the people involved."
Zaluski, who said he witnessed many friends shot down during the war, was grateful to be able to visit and pay tribute to the men and women who never made it home.
One veteran, who served 19 months with a tank destroyer battalion, fought back tears on his journey down the aisle of applause. Harry Clancy, a World War II fighter pilot, paused to shake hands with a small boy.
"I almost broke down," Clancy said of his Honor Flight welcome, which also marked his first trip on a commercial airline. "I took it as it came. It was wonderful."
Helping every veteran in America to visit their memorial is the Honor Flight goal, Case said. With more than 900 World War II veterans dying every day, the network continues to cater to these elderly heroes.
More than 20,000 veterans on Honor Flights have visited the memorial, dedicated in 2004, according to the Honor Flight Network website.
"We lost the last known World War I veteran a while back. It's only a matter of time before our World War II vets are no longer with us," Case said. "I invite Fort Meade, especially the troops, to pay respects to a previous generation while we still have them to cherish."
For more information about Honor Flight or to review dates that flights come into BWI, visit www.honorflight.org. If you are an individual or group interested in welcoming an Honor Flight, e-mail Duke and Jean Case at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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